By Ryan Clarke

The Bulletin

The ephemeral sound of passing runners came in noisy bursts. Their shoes slid and splashed in wet grass and spikes clacked on a wooden footbridge and asphalt paths. Parents and coaches cheered along the 5,000-meter course, often falling silent once their kids went by.

It was a cool, breezy, wet afternoon Friday at Bend’s Drake Park for the Oxford Classic cross-country meet. Hundreds of high school runners from Oregon, Washington and Idaho were in town to compete and have some fun.

Much of the fun at the Oxford Classic is derived from a sense of community, according to coaches and runners involved with the race. Summit junior Fiona Max finished first among varsity girls Friday by a near 26-second margin, and she said the community bond is strong for the nine schools from Central Oregon. Local participants included Bend High, Culver, La Pine, Madras, Mountain View, Redmond, Ridgeview, Summit and Trinity Lutheran.

“A lot of these teams have a chance to race hard at really big meets, and with this meet we have an opportunity to be at home and show our friendlier side,” Max said. “We’re all really close. This whole running community grows up with each other in high school.”

Drake Park was a sea of young athletes and tents during the 27th running of the Oxford Classic. Music provided the background sound while runners warmed up, grabbed food and water, hung out with family or danced with friends. The Oxford Classic is considered one of Oregon’s premier regular-season meets, but more than a competitive event, it appeared to be a good time all around.

The course presented a significant challenge, though. Going up and down hills, through long grass and over a bridge crossing Mirror Pond was difficult, according to Bend High’s Bennet Jackson, who finished fifth among the varsity boys and was first among Central Oregonians in that race.

His coach, Lisa Nye, led the organizing effort for Friday’s event. She said the conditions added to the physical test.

“It’s nice to have cooler weather, because the kids are used to running in a lot of warm or smoky weather,” Nye said. “One of the things about this course that’s challenging is the grass, and with the rain it was softer.”

Nye’s Lava Bears trained in Drake Park leading up to the race, but it was new territory for many of the teams from out of town. The home course advantage for the Bend schools showed in the girls results in particular, especially for Summit. All six of the Storm’s varsity runners finished in the top nine, and the girls posted an impressive 22 points in their victory, blowing out the second-place Capital Eagles from Boise, Idaho (98), and Bend High (107).

The Summit boys also finished first with 63 points, trailed by South Medford (74) and Boise’s Borah Lions (92). The top boys finisher by more than 16 seconds was sophomore Nathan Green from Borah.

Mountain View senior Kelsey Swenson finished second among varsity girls. She said her competitive edge was still there, but the focus on this day was having fun.

“This race is a little bit less pressure than the other races,” Swenson said. “I think it’s really fun to go out and race with teammates, and I have a lot of friends on other teams.”

Jackson, a junior and one of four runners from the Bend schools in the boys top 10, said the environment is unlike any other meet in which he and the Lava Bears compete.

“It’s just a super fun experience,” he said. “We’ll be dancing after and there’s music playing. The team atmosphere is what I love about cross-country. It’s just a great group of people.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0307,